Thrissur to Bengaluru: KSRTC Garuda Maharaja

Booking tickets for our return from Kerala after attending a CEP was a little tricky. We were returning only on Monday and hence I had to look for buses that were consistent with their arrival in Bengaluru. After some thinking over, searching, introspection - and what not, I finalise the Kottarakkara-Bengaluru service operated by Kerala State RTC. The bus was quite empty at the time of booking - we booked seats on the right side of the bus, towards the middle.

July 16, 2018:
I had gone to Ernakulam during the day, and had missed my lunch. I had a late lunch after getting back home around 1630hrs or so. We left home around 1800hrs - since our bus to Bangalore had a scheduled departure time of 1950hrs from Thrissur (a highly impossible time, though). Soon after we got to the bus stop, a bus operated by KK Menon Transports pulled in - my favorite operator on the route, who returned to the scene after a brief hiatus. The bus ambled along the state highway towards Thrissur. Rain began belting down as we neared Thrissur, and it just got strong as the bus rolled in to the KSRTC bus station stop - the kind hearted conductor ensured the driver pulled the bus as close to the shelter as possible.

We remained in the shelter till the rain mellowed down a bit. Meanwhile, I called up the crew of our bus to find where they were - the bus was at least two hours away going by "normal conditions" - but we were in the middle of torrential rain. Since we had lots of time to go, we headed straight to Hotel Aradhana, where we had taken awesome dosas last time - my tummy was still full, and I opted to share the food TW ordered. We finished our food, and headed to the bus station around 2000hrs or so. It was still drizzling, and we just ran to the bus station. We found some seats to rest, in the covered waiting area. Little did we know what was in store for us.

The clock slowly ticked past 2100hrs.. no sign of our bus yet. The time went past 2130hrs.. still no sign of our bus.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka RTCs services to Bengaluru went one behind the other. Kerala RTC's Ernakulam-Bengaluru also went. We were still waiting. Kerala RTC buses from Kottayam and Trivandrum (the one via Mysore) also went by, and we were still waiting. I got restless as the clock went past 2300hrs - the crew's phone was now not reachable. I finally managed to connect to them by around 2320hrs - the crew politely answered that they were already inside the bus station, but were unable to get to the boarding platforms due to a traffic snarl inside. I waded through the traffic to find our bus parked near the entrance gate itself - we boarded the bus there. The driver managed to get to the platform by 2332hrs. Boarding took quite some time since a lot of passengers were 'missing' - rounds of announcements were made on the PA system. We finally managed to have everybody on board by 2344hrs, and slowly backed out from the platform. We departed from Thrissur by 2346hrs - 4 minutes short of a 4 hour delay! In short, just, 3 hours and 56 minutes late!
The bus: RP662 (Pic from Archives)

The crew were busy discussing the route to Palakkad via Shoranur - giving me hopes we'd take that route, but the driver had other plans - he swiftly headed towards Mannuthy, and turned towards the dreaded Kuthiran pass route. A delay was imminent. I remember the bus joining the traffic snarl before I dozed off. I vaguely remember waking up in between, and seeing the bus still stationary! I dozed for a while more, and woke up just as the lights inside were turned on - we were at Palakkad bus station, and the clock inside the bus read "03:11". That was just 3 hours and 26 minutes to cover a distance of about 63 kilometres! The bus was refueling now - we got off the bus for a stroll and to use the restroom.

The unique design of the Scania fuel tanks meant the crew had to turn the bus around to refuel the second tank - unlike the volvo where all the tanks are interconnected. We finally got off from Palakkad at 0325hrs, with a delay of just 6 hours and 10 minutes! There was zero hopes of getting to Bangalore on time, I at least hoped we make it by 0900hrs. I dozed off soon after we started from Palakkad. I slept for a little over two hours. We were on a four laned highway as I woke up, ambling along very slowly, and I could feel the driver was pumping the accelerator. He wasn't able to overtake any vehicle (lack of confidence to do that), and we moved slowly. I turned on the maps on my phone to realize that we weren't even past Salem! The bus pulled over right after Vaigundam toll gate -the crew exchanged positions. The guy who took over now (the same guy who was driving when we left Thrissur) was faster. We passed Salem at 0650hrs.

The guy pushed the beast after Salem - he did show some sense of urgency. I had resigned to fate, and was mentally prepared to take half-a-day off. The driver maintained very good pace, and we managed to get to Hosur by 0908hrs, where we stopped to drop a passenger. I was expecting traffic to get worse after Hosur, but luck seemed to be on our side. Traffic wasn't as bad as expected - we progressed quite fast, and got to Electronic City by 0950hrs. We took the elevated highway, and reached Silk Board by 0959hrs. Traffic was bad afterwards, but we got to Madiwala by 1014hrs, dropped passengers and got moving by 1015hrs. We stopped at Lalbagh at 1039hrs, and then at Corporation Circle by 1051hrs. The conductor had announced earlier that the bus wouldn't got to 'Majestic' and requested all Majestic bound passengers to alight at Corporation.

The bus entered Mysore road, and headed towards Satellite bus station. I was a little concerned if they'd terminate the trip there - but the bus stopped outside the bus station instead (1100hrs). We got moving soon afterwards. The driver was still ballistic. We entered the outer ring road, and rushed towards Tumkur road. This crew too took the "short cut" and got stuck in the traffic snarl between Kanteerava studio and SBI circle. We stopped by near Jalahalli cross (1132hrs) and then rushed to Basaveshwara Bus station. We finally reached the 'last stop' at 1135hrs - 5hours and 35 minutes late. All the other services had already arrived - we were the last to reach.

Summary: The bus, RP662 (KL-15-A-1425) homed at Kottarakkara depot, had about 4.92 Lakh Kms on the clock. The bus had just about 2000kms when I had traveled in it last (see here),which was coincidentally my first ride in a Kerala RTC Scania too. The crew were a mixed bag - they spoke very soft, but weren't very helpful. The blankets were left on the overhead rack, they didn't smell fresh and appeared not washed for a while. Water bottles were 'on request' as usual. The driving style was good - he was fairly fast enough. The bus rattled like crazy - I think all Scanias rattle this bad! I was in the wrong service on the wrong day - the roads around Kottayam was flooded on the day, and it was no surprise that the service was terribly late. The snarl on Kuthiran pass worsened our delay, and the second crew member decided to learn driving worsened the delay. The driver did his best to make up time - we did bring down our delay by 35 minutes, and the running time came to a little under 12 hours! An eminently forgettable journey!

Blanket: Yes (not clean)
Water: Yes (on request)
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, worked.
Entertainment: Available, not used.

Maintenance: 4.5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 4.5/5
Punctuality: 0/5

Overall: 2.5/5

Pros: Value for money, excellent service, state bus
Cons: Can be expensive during weekends, inconsistent service

Will I take this service again? I might give them another chance - they are usually the first (sometimes the second) to arrive at Bengaluru. Worth a try!